Locks of the Dam



Sorry for the fuzziness of these two shots, but they’re the best I could get. The ill-lit nighttime one shows is taken from our boat, showing all the other boats being shoe- horned into the second (of five) locks of the Three Gorges Dam, at around midnight on the last night of our cruise. Many of us stayed on deck the whole time to watch the process. It’s amazing. It’s now three weeks later, and I didn’t take notes, but if I recall, each lock raises or lowers ships about 22 meters or so, and they’re one after another. Right now, the first lock is not yet functional since the water level has not risen above the level of the second lock yet. Anyway — it was intensely cool, though in an industrial sort of way, not in the beautiful nature of the gorges sort of way. The really fuzzy shot is from the bus after we’d toured the Dam and learned more about it. It shows the step-like progression of the five locks, from outside and downstream.

One has mixed emotions about the dam: having lived through power outages all summer in Nanning, I know China’s need for more power. I also know Americans (and many others) are in no position to criticize China very effectively since we dammed many of our greatest and most beautiful rivers and natural areas (Glen Canyon, anyone) thirty and more years ago. (Quite aside from how greedily Americans consume energy of all origins.) And indeed, the Gorges are still quite awe-inspiring and beautiful as they are — even in the mist — as you’ve seen. Yet how much more awe-inspiring would they be, if they were another 120 meters or so taller than they are now?

The dam itself falls roughly 1/3 of the way into the third gorge, heading downstream. This means the water through the last part of the third gorge is lower, and the height of the cliffs is a bit more dramatic. But, whether due to the dam construction or the relative proximity to a major city (Yichang, where we ended), there are generally more towns and houses through this part than through the other two gorges we went through. Also, perhaps, by that point we knew the trip was nearly over and were ready for our next destination?

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